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Africa - 40th Anniversary of the OAU 1969 Refugee Convention

Briefing notes

Africa - 40th Anniversary of the OAU 1969 Refugee Convention

8 September 2009

Thursday, September 10 will mark the 40th anniversary of the OAU Refugee Convention of 1969. The Convention, adopted by the Organization of African Unity, the continental body that is now replaced by the Africa Union, was a groundbreaking achievement at the time and continues to guide and shape UNHCR's work on the African continent.

The OAU Convention expanded the refugee definition found in the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Under the 1951 Convention, a refugee is an individual having "a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion". The 1969 Convention expanded the definition to include "every person who, owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order".

Over the past four decades, the Convention has made it possible for millions of Africans to reach safety and receive protection and assistance. Its importance and vitality remain undiminished today.

Africa today has more than 2.65 million refugees and asylum seekers (2,659,000). With more than 6.3 million displaced within their own countries (6,343,000), the continent is also home to nearly half (45%) of the world's internally displaced persons (IDPs). The scale of forced displacement in Africa will be the focus of the upcoming Africa Union Special Summit on Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons, which will take place in Kampala, Uganda, from 19 to 23 October.

At the Special Summit, African Union Heads of State and Government are expected to consider for adoption a new and equally groundbreaking convention on the protection and assistance of IDPs in Africa. It will be the first legally biding international instrument on IDPs with a continental scope, and UNHCR hopes that it will translate into better lives for African IDPs.